What does it mean to be created in the image of God? Hmmmm. It seems to me that whatever it is, it must be what sets us humans apart from the rest of creation. For a long time I thought that difference was in the fact that humans are capable of love and animals aren’t. Then I started living with a dog and that theory was shot to pieces. I have no doubt that she can love.
Now I’m thinking that what sets us humans apart is our capacity to search for meaning. I don’t think animals spend a whole lot of time reflecting on the deeper meaning of their lives. Of course, when I watch reality T.V., I’m not always convinced that some people do either. But it seems that most of the people I spend time with are in the midst of a struggle to make sense of things. I’m not talking about people who get excited about seeing the figure of Jesus in a tortilla, or Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich. I’m talking about people who are looking for God in the deeper places of their lives.
That’s not to say that we can ever see things as God does, or that we can ever really know the meaning of our lives. But we want to, and we struggle to. And that makes us unique in all creation. We think about such things. We even think about thinking. And think about thinking about thinking. And… well, you get my point.
As I struggle to find meaning in my own life, I see it as a story with a beginning, and a middle, and an end. But my story makes no sense to me unless I can see how it’s part of a larger story. That’s why my faith is so important to me. It provides me with a larger story to identify with. I share this larger story with other people of faith, as well. And that’s why I need to be part of a community of faith. I need to be with other people who share a common story and a common meaning to their lives.
My larger faith story is the Jesus story. It’s certainly not the only faith story in the world. But it’s the one that rings true for me. It’s the story of finding my true self by losing my false self. It’s the story of trusting in the freeing love of God above all that would enslave me: fear, shame, pride, self-protectiveness. It’s the story of finding healing and wholeness in the midst of my brokenness. It’s the story of death and resurrection. That’s my story. It’s what makes sense to me. Without it, I don’t know if I could continue slogging along through the world. What would be the point of it all?
It seems to me that there are a whole lot of people in the world today who find life meaningless. Nothing makes sense to them because their lives have no context. They have attached themselves to a story that’s so small it can’t possibly contain all the depth of their human experience. They only have their individual stories to examine; there is no larger story to make sense of their lives.
Socrates once said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” I suspect that he was right insofar as if we examine our lives and find no meaning in them, they’re not worth living. That’s why I believe what I do as a pastor is so important. I’m someone who helps people examine their lives. And, because of the larger story that I’m a part of, I can offer a way for them to make sense of their lives. How cool is that?
I know that the Jesus story isn’t the only way to make sense of our lives. All people of faith can help folks examine their lives, no matter what their larger story might be. And that’s why I feel a special bond with rabbis, priests, monks, shamans, imams, and other such people God has chosen to guide others in their search for meaning.
If you’re struggling to find meaning in your life, don’t give up the quest. It’s what makes you most human and most God-like at the same time. And know that you’re not alone. We’re all in this together. No matter what the larger story is that we find to make sense of our lives, there is an even larger story than that, a meta-story, that contains all our larger stories. We may not be able to grasp it with our limited human perspective, but it’s the story that ultimately unites all of us meaning-makers. And maybe that’s what it means to be created in the image of God. We’re not, each of us, little images of God, but collectively, we are the Image of God. Together.